Category Archives: Just Watching

Just Watching – June 2018

Perennial.  An R and C word for the month.  Perennial.  Got it? The word is usually a descriptive relating to flowers or plants or some vegetables.  (A perennial is a plant that is enduring and recurs annually like daffodils, day lilies, asparagus or hosta.)  Recently an aging “expert” applied it to men and women in my age bracket.  Imagine that: me a perennial!

The latest AARP Bulletin (May 2018) contained a Q and A segment featuring Dr. Laura Carstensen who was described as a top aging expert on staff at Stanford University.  Just think of it!  One of our nation’s premier universities has a faculty member rated as a “top aging expert”!  A hundred and fifty years ago “aging”, and a related word like gerontology weren’t even recognized as a topic for university study.

So says Dr. Carstensen who writes, “When I was in graduate school 30 years ago, old age was considered to be pathological.  (Pathology means, ‘…involving, caused by, or of the nature of a physical or mental disease’).”  A disease, yet! 

She continues, “…and I happily went along with that.  But when I began studying elders I found that they were doing really well emotionally, even when they weren’t doing so well physically.  They were generous, thoughtful and emotionally complex. And I thought ‘If those qualities are growing (nationally) because our population is aging, then we’d be idiots not to use that resource to improve society’.”

Then her zinger.  She said that she had begun describing people like me and my peers who are well past 70 as “perennials”.  Why?   We aren’t over-the-hill annuals as some would have it.  We are of a blossoming cycle that annually produces fresh growth in every new season of life.  We’re not over the hill and then on to a of never ending path of down, down, down.  Perennials experience annual renewal on the ladder of life as more and more of us not only live longer but live longer – longer! 

I recently zipped past my 89th birthday on my way to 90.  As I understand the term perennial relates to me as I head for a world of greater growth and broader service, especially to my descendants.   But from whom am I to learn about this upward and onward take on life?  Not from any ancestral male Mueller.  I am the longest lived Mueller male in direct lineage going back to 1680 and beyond.  So from whence will come a helping hand?

At one level the answer to me is the same-old-same-old.  My help comes from the Lord who guides me in and by the Word that is “…a lamp to my feet and a guide to my path” (Psalm 119: 105).  It is there to aid me as it has helped all generations deal with “change and decay” since God’s Day One. 

But what Dr. Carstensen means about seeing my aging life in perennial terms is that both I and those around me are called to come at our present and future with a perennial mindset.  Today’s people and today’s challenges are different from any in the past.  Living longer and living longer – longer means we are meant to face God’s many, many “new” deals with the perennially “renewed” body He gives us.  

We can’t act as if we are not of the jet age, the electronic age, the age of scientific change (and hopefully advances) on every side.  We need to think ahead to the developing world of not just of our children, of our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren – and even beyond.  What we will do will depend on what we see developing perennially.

One example of how that happens comes from the 1970s and 1980s when our parish had a vision for helping congregations enter the 20th century computer age feet first.  Hoping to help that happen they gave dozens of computers and church related computer programs to churches that were open to a little push. 

In the process of doing that there would usually be a church meeting during which someone would protest introducing computers to the church ending his speech triumphantly asking, “What can you do with a computer that you couldn’t do with a pencil and paper?”  My answer?  “Nothing – except you don’t.”  A little more fussing and then the group would be overcome with an advance case of common sense and enter the computer age. 

So here I am today wondering how best to help older people come to grips with what it means to be a perennial.  It seems to me that we need to apply Wayne Dyer’s observation to this moment:

“When you change the way you look at a thing, the thing you look at changes.”

If today’s octogenarians can be helped to see themselves as perennials they would simultaneously recognize that there is more to life than just surviving.  Instead they would be open to living a life that is more exciting, lively, busy and challenging than it has ever been before.  Audie and I have been led to see that three reasons we are still here is to 1) serve our four grown children (and their spouses), 2) a ton of grandchildren that are ours by birth or marriage and 3) the cherry atop our familial sundae is the more than a dozen great grandchildren on the scene – with more on the way.  That isn’t what we specifically foresaw when we married in 1953.  Our world is a rapidly spinning carousel that instead of slowing down as we age keeps picking up speed.  Look out world, here we come!

So what does acting my age at 89 look like in 2018 given that ours is pan-generational, extended family constantly celebrating some family member’s birthday, or baptism, or confirmation, or graduation, or marriage, or anniversary, or promotion, or emergency or any of a myriad of other significant life events?  These are no send-a-card-and-forget-it moments.  Each calls for coordination, commitment – and our thoughtful and involved presence more than any presents.  And that is to say nothing about perennial requirements to weep with those who weep their way through break ups, broken bones, challenging diagnoses and zillions of other life setbacks.  That’s when perennials like us are on active duty ready with a sympathetic ear and an encouraging word.   Pooling all that reminds me of a favorite Rich Bimler-ism: “Getting older is the only way to live.”  To which we add, “…if you want to.”  Recognizing that wanting to honor our age is a choice that authentic perennials make – which is what this issue of JW is all about. 

  • It’s about the ever increasing number of us whom God has reserved to live past 85 years of age today under Mordecai’s “… for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
  • It’s about the scary discovery that like it or not we perennials are pioneers with little precedent from our past to fall back upon as we face our new and changing world.
  • It’s about a willingness, under the Word, to adjust our way of viewing the challenges that our descendants face and offer them our best as the time tested 2018 perennials that we are.

Count me in. You?

Perennially, Charlie

Just Watching – May 2018

I’m not sure why but of late three things have been much on my mind –

  1. the word “grownup” (does anyone grow down?),
  2. Jack of Beanstalk fame and
  3. the world into which I recently slipped – or involuntarily slid – or maybe was pushed when I passed my 89th

Why now?  Is it because I am nearing 90 that end-of-life milestone that these three items are on my mind?  Maybe.  But as I fiddled with the three-some cited, a number of feelings surfaced starting with the word “grownup”.    

Digging around a little I discovered that “grown up” popped up in the English language in the 17th century.  Among several of its early meanings that word refers to growing, or becoming mature, or being adult, even ripening.  As I researched one of the questions I had was, “Is anyone ever fully grown up and, if so, how would she/he know?”  What do you think? 

As I traveled further down that road I wondered, “Do we first become a fully developed Grown UP, then shift life gears and start growing DOWN—whatever that might mean?”  I suspect that thought stemmed from the fairy story of Jack and his bean stalk that involved going UP the stalk and then DOWN.   Remember?

Jack was the son of a poor widow who sent him to sell her last possession: a cow.  Enroute to town Jack was talked into swapping the cow for some “magic” beans.  When he got back home and told his mom about his big deal she exploded with anger, threw those beans as far as she could, sent Jack to bed and grieved all night over having such a clueless son.

Overnight those beans sprouted where they were thrown and became a mighty vine sprang from the ground and swooped up into the clouds.  When Jack awoke and saw what had happened he clambered up that vine until he reached a giant’s castle where he found a pot of gold, a goose that laid golden eggs and a magic harp.  Snagging all three he slid down that vine bee lining it for home sweet home, the giant hot on his trail.  In the nick of time he hit the ground, chopped down the vine where it was goodbye giant and hello happily-ever-after.  Lutheran that I am I immediately asked, “What might all that mean?”  Could the story be about everyone’s experiences as they were growing older until they found themselves hip deep in the golden years (like my today?) wondering what else is there yet to come in life, Alfie?  

As a Christian I know there is more.  I’m heading for my Father’s house.   But what am I to do down here until that roll is called up yonder?  Shall I park my bus and wait?  Do I start growing down even though there is no reverse life?  No way.  Life is a one-way bean stalk.  We can grow only one way – up! 

If portions of the Psalms and many other places in Scripture are to be believed once we pass that three score and ten mile-stone there’s still much more gold in them thar’ comin’ years waiting to be found.  Endless TV commercials and print media ads push a their back-to-our-teens Plan B with youth-restoring pills, potions, lotions, dietary supplements and medical devices all guaranteed to reverse the tide of time.  I see them as age-denial fakes, short term placebos that steal from me the individualized golden years God tailored just for me.  To do what?   The gold is not in me.  It’s in caring for those still on the way.  Psalm 78:5-7 is a great growing up guide when it tells us:

“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them – the children yet unborn – and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments…”  

Translation?  Grown Ups stay busy helping their Growing Up descendants by Growing Out to them! 

Psalm 70:17,18 offers another punchy insight that will keep your Grown Up life growing:

“O God, from my youths thou hast taught me, and I still proclaim thy wondrous deeds.  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim thy might to all the generations to come.  Thy power and Thy righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens.”  Translation?  We’re on duty, creaky bones and all, until we die.

At 89 years and 9 days I’m a work in process, a 21st century Growing UP great grandparent who is committed to Growing Out.   So, what else is there to do?  Want to team UP?

Blessings, 

Charlie

Just Watching – April 2018

Here I am, a few days past my life’s 89th mile marker, feeling like I’m trapped between two very different worlds.  I have one foot firmly planted in the 70-plus domain.  My other foot is in the 30-and-under realm of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The problem?  It’s tough making it that way especially when I have the sinking feeling that the gap between the two is growing.

Is there a chance that all those 30 and under youngsters will understand the world into which their grandparents were so unceremoniously dumped upon their early 20th century arrivals?  How do we explain to our newest generations what a world without Social Security, Medicare, an interstate highway system, jets and a jet set, ball point pens and most of today’s electronic devices was like?  It’s like describing green to someone blind.  Add to all that the zillion or so political, social, economic or cultural shifts that have kicked in since the 1920s.  We who experienced them can ourselves barely believe they happened.   L.P. Hartley’s observation that, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” is not just discerning but accurate.  How will we ever find common conversational coin between us and that tidal wave of young people that is here with more heading our way?  It’s like reliving the babble at Babel (Genesis 11). 

To further complicate our moment, did those of us on the far side of a 70th birthday expect to pioneer in the living-longer and the living-longer-longer phenomenon in which we find ourselves?  George Burns’ line that if he’d known how long he was going to live he’d have taken better care of himself isn’t funny.  It’s a digest of where we who are up to our hips in an unanticipated future find ourselves.   Except as to knowing our life’s ultimate destination we are as dumb about the road ahead as were the disciples in their fascinating John 14:1-6 conversation with Jesus.  What comforts me as I face a here and now unknown is that the Lord and I are on speaking terms, a circumstance that works best if He is doing the talking I am doing the listening.

As I head off into an unknown future this side of eternity I am doing the best I can trying to develop a useful conversation with my extended descendants, whether near term (children) or far (grandchildren and beyond).  I have found that it works best when I understand the three basics needed to engage in effective conversation, discussion or debate.  Let me explain them for you as best I am able.

I. First, before I can effectively participate in any of todays inter- and intergenerational conversation I need to understand and admit the position from which I invariably begin.  More often as not as I begin serious conversation whether with my peers and my posterity with a four step process as an unconscious incompetent.  I don’t know what I don’t know – and need to.  It’s best if I zip my lip as gather as much information and insight into the people and the topic at hand as I can.  As I do that my condition changes to that of a conscious incompetent.  At least I know there is more than I had previously realized.  The operating principle? “Dumb is until you learn – stupid is forever.” 

From there it’s but a short step to becoming a conscious competent a condition built on the new knowledge I am busily gathering.  When the day dawns when I know and know how to intuitively apply what I have learned I will have become an unconscious competent, able to successfully participate in pan-generational conversations and experience positive moments of personal reflection.  It’s like what happens once we have learned how to ride a bicycle with ease or can type without looking at the keys.

That four step sequence is how we learn to first fill our private wisdom well and then dip from it in order to understand and then converse about pan generational issues.  The hardest thing about learning how to do that is admitting that where many pan generational issues are concerned I am an unconscious incompetent.  Me?

II. A second enhancing aid to developing superior intra and inter-generational discussion lay in recognizing the value of basic Robert’s Rules of Order underpinnings. 

Robert’s Rules were developed toward the end of the 19th century as a tool for managing large meetings.  Without getting into all the minutiae that befuddle most there are three principles that, when applied, can both keep conventions under control conventions and enhance one-on-one conversations.  In essence Robert’s Rules isolates and identifies three “common” areas that will make useful discussion and debate (or one-on-one conversation) possible.  

  1. When properly applied Roberts’ guarantees civil discussion by controlling personal attacks on anyone. No put downs of others.  No angry rants.  The minority should be given enough time to speak so that if they are persuasive they can become the majority.  But there is a limit.   All must show Common Courtesy
  1. From the outset identify items about which you agree. Then zero in on matters about which you disagree. Move forward by surfacing areas of Common Consent.
  1. Create the best environment in which to debate and identify the best physical circumstances for serious conversation. Take turns and do all you can to help people hear. Be guided by Common Sense.

III. Finally, make sure that the topic or topics you want to discuss are defined to the satisfaction of all who are involved.  Then deal with one topic at a time.  Without that principle being adopted inter or intra-generational dialogue is in trouble, likely doomed. 

If you take the time to work through I., II. and III. you will see none are very complicated.  I’m not pushing rocket science.  It’s more like knowing within our world that what-goes-up-must-come down.  That’s a basic that is important to know if you plan to shoot an arrow into the air.

Blessings,

Charlie

Just Watching – March 2018

The long standing goal of Rich and Charlie Resources has been to support and encourage parents, pastors and Christian leaders.  That’s important.  Nearing 89 years of age I need all the encouragement I can get whether as a marriage partner (Audie and I just celebrated our 65th anniversary), a parent (we have four married children, 19 grandchildren by birth and marriage and 15 great-grandchildren), a retired pastor (is there such a thing?) and as a garden variety Christian I do the best I can at living a full Christian life at a time hauntingly alike the one which Abe Lincoln called “a stormy present”.  Alike or not one thing is for sure – it’s not the world I boarded in 1929 as the stock market was collapsing and the clouds of WWII were forming.

It strikes me as strange that together with what’s left of our waning Silent Generation (born between 1925 and1944, the smallest of the 20th century) we are being asked from a lot of our world’s corners, “Are you happy?” 

As I work toward answering that question consider how “happy” has recently been recurring:   

  • Six weeks ago we were greeting others with, “Happy New Year”. What do people expect one to look like? 
  • A couple weeks ago Audie and I were carded, called and e-mailed, “Happy 65th Anniversary”. Or, what?
  • Then of course last week we shared cards, candy, flowers and other gifts saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day”. How might that be defined?

The five letter word h-a-p-p-y has been hanging today’s world a lot whether in the opening line of FDR’s 1930s theme song, “Happy days are here again…”, or TV’s more recent “Happy Days” sitcoms, or as the name given one of Snow White’s lovable dwarfs. 

And, off course there’s that pan-generational top 10 tune, “Happy Birthday To You.”  There seems to be many other times or places where happy wedges its way into our life including Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence where at Benjamin Franklin’s suggestion one of the our inalienable rights was changed from “pursuit of money” to “the pursuit of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.” 

What put me on this happy-kick was two 2018 magazine mentions citing it as a current concern and my curiosity about its meaning and how it found its way into the English language. 

The first magazine mention that I spotted was a full page Special Report of the January 12 edition of The Week featuring opinions and scientific studies about what makes people happy.  They cited positive elements like close relations with family and friends, good health, involvement in creative work and a succession of smaller scale positive experiences.  Money can enhance happiness but after making $75,000 a year more money doesn’t matter as much.  The biggest boost of the way money relates to happiness comes from spending money on others, “…the closer you are to the recipient the happier you’ll be.”

One fascinating ramification that studies surfaced was that happiness declines as we move into the middle years bottoming out a 40 and then steadily rising as we age toward and then through our 70s.  Why?  One suggestion is that as people age their life goals shift from looking for new experiences to relishing existing relationships. 

That same thought was reinforced by a James Leland book that was briefly reviewed in magazine #2, the January AARP Magazine.  Entitled, “Happiness is a Choice You Make” it was seen as a “…uplifting and wise book (that) details the year Leland spent with six people 85 and older.”  The author said that experience raised his spirits like none other adding that, “I expected the year to bring great changes in them.  I didn’t expect it to change me.”  I’ve ordered a copy of that book.  If it’s as good as I think it is I’ll report on it you.

All of which brings me back to my quest for source and root meaning of happy.  It’s an Anglicization of a Norse word that meant “being safe”, “having good fortune” or “being lucky”.  Those meanings make sense of a 16th century saying, “Happy as a clam at high tide.”  Buried in the sea’s bed deep under lots of water that clam is safe, blessed with good fortune and very lucky. 

The dominant current view of happy as meaning joyful or giddy came along a lot later maybe the result of feeling protected and well cared for.  But today’s popular sense of what happy means doesn’t seem to last very long.

Now a question Leland’s book makes us face even before we read it: “Is happiness a choice we make or more likely a matter of chance?”

As I get older, happy is a word I think about a lot and work at wanting to experience every day.  If I don’t do that for me, who will?

What do you think?

Charlie

Just Watching – February 2018

Well, here we are with what turned out to be a short-lived government shutdown while each political party lays blame for that non-event at the door of the other. 

I don’t think I can do much about political blame games and their war of words.  But I do all I can to make sure that words of the Bible are understood and used properly in my family and in my congregational world – which just happens to be the world in which R and C Resources is most interested.  Some (too many!) students of Scripture drag Biblical words across the centuries into today’s world as if their historical, social and political context and the word’s meaning has not changed.

Specific Biblical terms touching family, gender, race, marriage, government, labor or any of a myriad of other life settings cannot be understood apart from the worlds of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel or Daniel in which they initially used.  One of my professors of over a half century ago told us, “Some people pick and use words from the Bible like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support and not for illumination.”  Authentic Lutherans should know better. 

When faced with words as straightforward as those of the Ten Commandments Martin Luther paused, took a deep breath and then asked, “What does this mean in today’s 15th century world?”  Five hundred years removed from Luther’s world Audrey and I ask, “What do Luther’s 15th century answers mean for our 21st century family and our 21st century congregation in our 21st century world?”  The Biblical basic truths haven’t changed but how they are applied today certainly has.  A past LCMS president was badly misunderstood and mauled when he, referring to our church body today, said, “This isn’t our grandfather’s church.”  Yet a lot of leaders today seem determined to make it so even if in the process their views cripple our internal and external Christian witness.  

As a deeply concerned father, grandfather and great-grandfather are today’s national and local institutional views and practices ministering to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren?   If not could it be because we have made various of God’s words mean sometimes more, sometimes less than what they meant when He initially gave them to us?

What makes this an even more complex matter is that during my lifetime an entirely new generation has been added to our world’s population mix.  There are not only more people in our world than at any time since the Savior was born but they are clustering into uniquely different generations that are living longer (they are) but are living longer longer.  News flash after news flash tells us that many among us don’t play well together as is evident in the generational, gender, racial and cultural eruptions that keep happening with regularity.  

Christian parents and parish leaders today are looking for God’s saving and soothing word for our moment.   We also need to ask whether there is valid guidance in the past that like the cargo in Jonah’s sinking ship needs to be pitched overboard for the family’s and congregation’s safety.  That would be nothing new.  Once we isolated something that was no longer useful, sometimes even useless, in the past we pitched “cargo” aplenty overboard.  But it was often a painful process that only happened after we took on that fearful adversary: change.

There is encouragement for us in seeking out and identifying with the will of God for our world in no less a person than Abraham Lincoln.  When struggling with the hard decision leading to adopting the Emancipation Proclamation he bit the bullet after concluding, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”  A fundamental change was needed.

So what “dogmas” of our family and congregational life from the quiet past are inadequate to our stormy present?  Were they defended then as clearly based in the Word of God (applicable for all time) or were they actually derived from fluid and flexible human tradition (appropriate for some moment in time)?  In answering that we must be ready to do the same kind of preparatory hard work that our nation’s founders did leading up to the Declaration of Independence.  It was only after seeming endless discussion and debate that on July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence with its awesome opening sentence was adopted:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

Study those capitalized and underlined words.  What exactly does each mean?  Is there any current difficulty in our nation that is untouched by one or more of those innocent looking vocables?

Our families and our congregations need to be as zealous in searching the Scripture and then adopting their own Declaration of Dependence (only this time on God) as were Jefferson and his co-signers in doing their work.  They did not invent nine new words. They identified and adopted powerful existing words that were appropriate to their moment.  And now it’s our turn.  Can we do as much?

In 1992 a song was written that co-opted the Bethlehem angel’s hope and wish for “Peace on earth…” that was embellished with additional words, “…and let it begin with me.”  As we slip deeper into 2018 my hope is that all of God’s children, especially the extended family with which the Father has surrounded Audrey and me, while paying attention to our tradition-filled Christian past, be fully committed to encouraging and living the Christ life today to its fullest – “… and let it begin with me.”

How’s that for something to work on as the vernal equinox is drawing near?  Faster!  Faster!

Blessings,  Charlie

Just Watching – January 2018

2017 REMNANTS

During the year I collect and pile up items that I think will fit Just Watching and the Rich and Charlie Resources goal of encouraging people/parents/parishes and church leaders.   Each month I review what I’ve gathered and use what seems most appropriate for the moment.   But there are always left over “pearls”. In this last issue of 2017 I want to string together some of them and pass them on to our R and C readers.  I hope they speak to you.

* Dave Carter gleaned from somewhere and then passed on to our Thursdays 6:30 Bible Class the view that the world can be divided into Givers and Takers.  The punch line?  “Takers eat well, but Givers sleep well.”  Now let’s see…

* Much  promotional material coming from the LCMS headquarters urges parishioners to give directly to Synod (credit cards accepted!) bypassing local and district connections.  The assumption underlying that request spears to be a belief that the synod is the church.  For most LCMS history that was considered nonsense smacking of heresy and the response seems to agree.

*Behind the scene for about 170 years there has been a never-ending struggle between the clergy hierarchicalism of Grabau/Loehe (“…beware the papacy of the people…”) and CFW Walther’s local parish and laity based emphasis.  Walther isn’t faring too well today.  I think that if he ever goes down for the count the LCMS of yore will be in trouble. What do you think?

*One answer to those who wonder why congregations are shrinking in both size and number today is that the further a local congregation gets from caring about and serving their own community the smaller it will become.  In the heyday of the LCMS members lived nearby where they could walked or take public transportation (remember street cars?) to church.  As suburban sprawl set in so did local outreach.  When a local congregation no longer primarily serves those living within the shadow of their steeple can they last?  Ditto a family that no longer takes care of its own spiritual needs? 

*For 88 years I’ve watched from a front row seat as the LCMS has been getting smaller even as its Handbook (our in-house book of institutional rules and regulations) has gotten thicker and thicker.   We appear to have forgotten that the Reformation was not about 95 “somethings” nailed to a door but about one incredible Someone who was nailed to a cross.  How does that insight fit the church and family life in which we find ourselves? 

* For years I have attended national and regional church conventions where people tried to craft rules that would give them control.  John 1:17 tells us that law/rules are not the last word in control.  It says, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth through Jesus Christ…”  Moses may have passed on to us curbs, mirrors and rules meant to keep human nature in check, but it took the gift of a Savior to make a lasting difference in life.  More rules, ala Moses, do not produce unity in marriage, family or in Christian community.  St. Paul agrees.  His I Corinthian 13 ode to love is introduced as being “the more excellent way.”  It’s love, a spiritual gift of which there is never enough, that makes the world go around – not laws.  It’s where the future of authentic families, congregations and friendships lay.

* I can tell that we must be nearing Christmas when I’m asked, “What do you want for Christmas, Dad/Grandpa/Charlie?”  When my Sweet Audie is asked that question she has traditionally answered, “A clean house – and well behaved children.”  Others in my circle of friends and acquaintances echo the angels wider ranging answer of, “Peace on earth” even as they then may argue about whether the balance of the angels’ Christmas Eve announcement  was, “…and good will to men”, or “…to men of good will”.  With the passing of every 21st century day both seem increasingly out of our reach.  But, no matter the answer others give I draw a draw a line at wanting any more “stuff”.  My cup – and my closet and my dresser drawers and all the places I store things – runneth over.  But there is something that I want, wild dream that it may be.  

As a member of a still sizeable Silent Generation that is composed of those born between about 1925 and1944 I yearn for the ability to communicate across the Generations that separate me from my sixteen great-grandchildren, the most recent arrivals being Maeve Davidson and Levi Baker.  More than anything else I want to pass on to them the Good News that is ours in Christ Jesus.  What capacity could be more valuable than that?

I also want to do my best to effectively prepare them for what they will face in the four Life Stages that God has established.  However many of Audie and my sweet sixteen great grandchildren will live into all four of those Life Stages is the Father’s business.   Preparing them to do so is Audie and mine together with any of His 21st century community of saints that are on duty during their lifetime.  Of course, R and C Resources is also here to do all it can to encourage and support parents, clergy and church leaders as they weigh in with help.  May we all do our part in the name of the gift-of-all-gifts, Bethlehem’s Babe.

As 2018 opens may you have been as blessed in this Christmas season as for the 88th time I have been blessed in mine.  Christ is the gift that keeps on giving whether I want Him to or not.  

Charlie

Just Watching – December 2017

The subtitle of Rich and Charlie Resources is clear enough.  Right?  Our goal is to write “An Encouraging Word For All Who Serve” which, more specifically, usually means the threesome of parents, pastor/teacher types and parish leaders.  So there you have it.  National officials, institutional executives and academic professionals of all sorts are valuable and important, but they don’t fall within our primary purview except as they may also be parents, pastors/teachers or parish leaders.

With that as context this edition of JUST WATCHING may seem to be about two items that may seem incidental to our published goal.  One is a person.  The other is a picture.  Without much of a stretch I see those two as conforming to our R and C Resource’s intention because within them the four “Fs” that stir up the best of life on earth are clearly visible. The four?  Faith, Family, Friends and Fun.  May I explain?

The person is Nancy (Olsen) Starck.  I don’t know whether Audrey and I came late into her life or she late into ours but either way we only knew her for a few wonderful years before on November 11, 2017, then 74 years old she went to the home to which she always knew she was heading.  Old?  Not Nancy. “Young,” sez Audrey and me from the perspective of 88.

Nancy came late into Audrey and my world when after her long, full and happy single life she met and married our friend, Richard Starck, a widower with whom she had once worked at AT&T.

I didn’t realize the size of her extended Olsen family and the number of friends she had developed over the years until literally hundreds of both poured into a Lion’s Club Banquet Hall on a recent Saturday afternoon some weeks after her death.  All four “Fs” were evident.  Lots of family.  Lots of friends.  Lots of faith.   And, of course, lots of fun.

The gathering took place even though Nancy was very specific about not wanting a funeral service, or a wake, or grave side ceremony.  She had spelled that out in her Will.  But as Dick explained to those who filled the hall, “…she didn’t say we couldn’t celebrate her life!”  And so it came to pass.

The program of the Saturday event began with five family/friends speakers briefly sharing recollections of her life which illustrated how Nancy lived the four “Fs”.  Capping the five was a touching moment when those present to whom Nancy had given hands-on help via an appropriate word or some act of kindness were asked to raise their hand.   There was a forest of arms.

Together with the pastor of her life-long church in which she had been very active I also had been asked to say a few words about Nancy and offer a prayer.  Few there knew me, why I was invited and even allowed to speak.  It was while the event was taking shape and happening that an answer to those concerns came to me.  But first a flash back.

When Dick and Nancy had been married just a few years previous to the Saturday “celebration” Audrey and I were the only guests invited to their wedding.  While Dick had many family members and friends near at hand in Chicagoland, and, of course, Nancy’s kith and kin were in local abundance, too.  But they (she) wanted their wedding to be focused to what they were doing in an event held in her home congregation.  It was her church and her pastor.  Balancing that was two of Dick’s friends.

Such a powerful and precious event.  The procession was Dick and Nancy coming in together singing a hymn they had chosen.  The music was provided by a young Korean student who at first provided random background music on a small organ before, at a pause in the service, she whipped out a ukulele, quietly sang, “You are my Sunshine” followed by a lively version of the same song.  It fit the moment to the twosome’s obvious surprise and joy.

Thinking about that wedding at her “celebration of life” it occurred to me how perfect and perfectly planned their wedding had been.  If family and friends had been invited (or even knew about it) the moment (her first and only wedding) would have been overwhelmed with a tidal wave of family/friends’ love and good intentions.  After a lifetime of her re came the preparing for this moment she decided it should be as private and personal as she and Dick could make it.

The moment at the Hall when I was to speak.  I kept it short and avoided “topping” the stories of any previous speaker.  I cited a little of Nancy’s humor (her e-mail address was “oldheifer @aol.com”), and then briefly said what I thought she would want me to share.  I told them of the many caring things Nancy had told Audrey and me about her family and her friends.  They were always much on her mind and in her heart.  Even as we celebrated her life that Saturday Dick offered to any in the group who didn’t know about Jesus the copy of the Christian primer that he and Nancy had been distributing whenever they could and wherever they went – now also at her Celebration.

So there you have it.  Elements of all four: family-friends-faith-fun ala Nancy (Olsen) Starck, a leading lady in Audrey’s life and mine.  She blessed whom she touched and she touched so many.  She knew about and blessed everyone she could with God’s Son-shine.

With that let me put at rest the abundance of good feelings about one special 4-F person whom Audrey and I were privileged to meet this side of eternity and turn to the 4-F picture, a 15th century etching, that has also been so much on my mind of late.

I’ve seen the etching many times in the past.  I’d bet you’ve seen it, too.  Likely done by Luther’s good friend, Cranach the Elder, it is a candid snapshot, frozen in time, of a happy and relaxed family, (maybe Luther’s?) who were interacting in a mid-winter moment.  In the etching are four involved adults and five active children.  Laying around are a number of musical instruments and all kinds of toys with what looks like a large, candle-lit and decorated fir-tree branch in the background.

The more I considered the etching the more I was struck by the obviously intergenerational family that it featured, some gifts (maybe from or made by friends?), multiple signs of faith in action with an overarching canopy of plain old everyday fun in décor and activity that permeates the scene.  It looks a lot like many a Christmas-past I have had.  Or was I just seeing what I was looking for?

In any case the picture and person I’ve written about reminds me of how important it is for me to seek and treasure the 4-Fs indicators that are all around me this Christmas season: family, friends, faith and fun.  I (we) need to stop, look and listen, the more the better.  Anything Rich and Bob Bimler, Dick Koehneke and all the others who contribute to R and C Resources can do to support and enhance your life the happier will be the balance of 2017 and however many more years into the future God has planned for us.

Here’s to the Son-shine, your 4-Fs – and mine!

Charlie

Just Watching – November 2017

Home-made Seminaries

While the Christian church was coming of age it developed a four-fold educational package that is still at work in many effective Christian homes, Christian congregations and in much of what is now its educational system for training church workers. That fourfold package involves: 

  1. Identifying and organizing the basic teachings of the church;
  2. A process for studying the Old and New Testament in order to determine their true meaning;
  3. Tracing God’s hand in His family’s pilgrimage from creation to today and beyond;
  4. Spelling out what God wants His children to do in His world and how He wants them to do it. .

In today’s accredited seminary world those four educational accents normally divide into a Systematics Department, an Exegetical Department, a Historical Studies Department and a Practical Studies Department.  What fascinates me is that over the centuries the same four educational accents shape the curriculum of what I call the “home-made seminaries” that parents, sometime aided by pastors and teachers of their day, developed and operated.

When Rich and I gather material for R and C Resources it’s not modern seminaries and their faculties we intend to encourage and support – though we are deeply concerned with declining seminary enrollment, with the age at which many seminarians graduate (where have all the flowers gone?), with too-many congregations and other important full-time ministries that are unsuccessfully seeking trained workers to help them with their harvests.  As important as that all is it is increasingly obvious to Rich and me that the church’s survival is not dependent on seminaries or organizational institutional structures but on the health of its homes and churches, parents and clergy.   The back story of the Bible is not one of deliverance through successful organizations and professional workers but of families and intimate religious communities, established by God, that are the frontline of man’s battle with sin, death and the devil. 

Over time that hasn’t changed.  Christian parents, clergy and church leaders were and are God’s “grunts” in His war with Satan.  As that war unfolds in today’s world the niche R and C Resources has carved out for itself is that of encouraging those servers chosen by God, who in words of the sainted Dr. Harry Coiner do their work, “…where the rubber hits the road”. 

And who knows more about both the rubber and the road than the Moms, Dads and family members who, assisted by a parish’s pastors and teachers, are the faculty that make home-made “seminaries” effective?  The curricular outline of today’s nationally accredited seminaries, (Systematic, Exegetical, Historical and Practical Theology), are older than the institutions that use it.  They had been previously developed over the centuries for use in the “home-made seminaries” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s ancestors, all Old Testament families.  When it became Mary and Joseph’s turn do His work, Luke 2 tells us they established their own “home-made seminary” that turned out a number of great graduates not the least of whom was Jesus. 

Later stories of how the Gospel spread from Pentecost to the Reformation are filled with reports of faithful parents supported by pastors and teachers who established and conducted thousands of “home-made seminaries”.  

Lutherans delight in tales of how Katy and Martin Luther had their own home-made Wittenberg “seminary” that not only were their own family and guest boarders, Luther even produced a home-made catechism that he shared with others during his life.   As a tool for teaching life’s most important lessons, that nearly 500 year old catechism with its what-does-this-mean and how-is-this-done, is still a useful text book in today’s “home-made seminaries”.  

As I was thinking about this issue of Just Watching my mind turned to how my own parents, our pastor and parochial school teachers, mimicked their distant past and current academic betters by developing a Kansas version of a “home-made seminary”.  As I came of age it functioned at various Wichita, Kansas locations.  Classes were taught at 1151 S. St Francis (our home), 909 S. Market (our church) and 320 Ellis (our day school).  It was in session year ‘round, the earliest ones being the simple meal and bedtime prayers my parents taught me.  They introduced to Systematic Theology and that even a child can grasp that God is to be honored and that He cares about us.  

At different times and various locations I was taught bits and pieces of the catechism, learned hymns, listened to lessons and sermons and all while at Immanuel Lutheran School worked my way deeper into God’s Word, grade after grade.  

Back home, at our kitchen table my parents reinforced what I was being taught in church and school.  I was experiencing Christian team-teaching at its best.  Little did I know that as I was growing up I was quietly being introduced not only to Systematic Theology but  two other core elements of my “home-made seminaries” curriculum:  Historical and Exegetical Theology.  We didn’t call what we were doing by those names.  I didn’t know what Mom was reading to us from Egermeier’s Story Book was Historical Theology.  Or that the same thing could be said about Mrs. Brenneisen’s Sunday School lessons or the Bible history classes at school.  It all added to my grasp of what God had been doing across the centuries, and, more important, what He is still doing today.  

Woven into what we were learning about God’s hand in history was our introduction to Exegetical Theology, or to put another way, what the specific words in God’s Word meant.  Over time the meaning of words like sin, grace, forgiveness and hope were explained to me and I was taught how to mine for the meaning of terms like, “kingdom of God” or phrases like, “trust in the Lord”.  Some of our growing understanding of what the words God used in the Bible meant came from our study of different languages but a lot of it came from the life witness of those who taught in our “home-made seminary”. 

The final component of my “home-made seminary’s” curriculum is Practical Theology, a seminary topic that explores ways to apply in life what we have learned in His Word.  For me the catalogue of what that involves includes at least six components: worship, witness, fellowship, service, teaching/learning and stewarding.  It’s in those six areas that my commitment to walk God’s walk and talk God’s talk is put into practice.  My understanding of what that is and how it is done grew from my “home-made seminary’s” Systematic, Exegetical and Historical Theology studies. 

The bottom line for all this at my stage in life is that if my own “home-made Seminary” (defined in Joshua 24:15 as “me and my house”) isn’t accredited by God and functioning at its best I need to get busy and change my ways as a person, parent and grandparent – while I still can.  

If that be your desire, Rich and Charlie Resources pledges to help you or, failing that, pledges to help you find the help you need.   In any case we are here to encourage any and all who are determined to improve their “home-made Seminary’s” effectiveness.

That’s where I stand on October 31, 2017.  I am still enrolled in the home-made “seminary” I’ve long attended.  It is still taught by the shadowy remembrances of its outstanding faculty: Walt and Aurelia Mueller, Pastor L.H. Deffner and Teacher Harold Leimer.   But that’s not the whole of it. 

I’m determined to do all I that can to encourage Audrey and my children and grandchildren (plus our sixteen great grandchildren tykes already on the scene) to establish their own “home-grown seminary”.  National church bodies and internationally acclaimed Seminaries have come and gone over the centuries but God’s own “home-made seminaries” keep going year after year folding one into the next as we and the future He has in store for all moves toward His great finale.  What a day that will be!

Meanwhile, when and where is our “home-made seminary” class?

Blessings,

Charlie

Just Watching – October 2017

Dr. Roger Weise, a highly regarded Chicago area geriatrician (and LCMS pastor’s son), must have really impressed me more than a decade ago because in successive issues of JUST WATCHNG I cited his three comments on the ageing process.  Remember them?  I do.

  1. Age is change over time.
  2. As we age it takes us longer to adapt to change.
  3. The older we are the more unique we become.

I was impressed with his three-some in my early 70s.  Today as an 88-year-old I am still in awe of them.  They are so true!  Sad to say, there are some my age and younger, who don’t have a glimmer about what Dr. Weise’s crystal clear comments mean.  As if that’s not bad enough they are often just as ignorant about how those three basics on ageing apply to families and congregations.  People, families and parishes –  

  • all age and change over time;
  • can have a hard time adjusting to internal and external change because their plate is already so full;
  • with the passing years, each becomes more unique – whether for “good” depends on them.

Their question is always whether they, or their family, or their congregation recognize that the unstoppable steam engine of change is high-ballin’ down their life’s main line, bell ringing and whistle blowing.   Johnny Cash asked, “Do you hear that train a-commin’?”  Well, do I, we, they?

In that regard have you noticed how today’s younger folks-families-congregations accept, adapt to and then adopt the choo-choo of change so much more easily than their older counterparts?  Many have clearly taken Alexander Pope’s 1711 advice (which shows how long this thing about change has been around),

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

In that quote I didn’t pick up on his “are tried” at first.   Pope’s “the new” that “are tried” is a plural.  There’s lots of new going around.  It was a constant in his day.  It is still a constant in ours. 

  • That’s why some church’s yesterday’s avant-garde parish practices look so weathered and worn today. They didn’t keep changing. 
  • That’s why many of yesterday’s tried and true family traditions look so irrelevant today. They no longer address our needs.
  • That’s why yesterday’s clothing fashions and its pop music are so easily recognized as dated today. Neither kept up with the changing times. 

Over time, yesterday’s absolutes turn into “barnacles our boat”.  Our challenge is not that of dealing with accumulated micro-organisms but of coping with layers of thread outmoded traditions, tired old practices and rules that make no sense.  Woe to the individual-family-congregation that does not regularly beach its boat and scrape off the accumulated residue of yesterday that not only slows them down but leaves them with little time or energy for claiming the important new core insights that each generation develops when it comes to stage center.   And come they do.  

Observation #2, “As we age it takes longer to adapt to change” is a toughie, too.   It demands two somewhat contradictory actions by individuals-families-congregations.  

  1. It is a matter of learning, claiming and adding things that are new, while
  2. Pitching overboard irrelevant and unused things that are “old”.

That’s hard to do.  Older people like Audie and me know that full well.  We have down sized our home three times and in the process reluctantly dumped what we don’t use, no longer need and our kids don’t want. 

Weise’s Observation #2 opens the door to Observation #3:  “…with the passing years, each becomes more unique, unencumbered with much of yesterday’s absolutes.  Or, tragically, still weighed down with yesterday’s irrelevancies.

One way or another, people/families/churches get more unique as the years pass.  It’s fascinating to study how older churches take on a patina of uniqueness.  One nameless “old lady” refused for years to translate its original German language Constitution into English even though only a few spoke their mother tongue.  When tough issues arose they would tussle with it long enough to develop a kind of consensus and then ask the pastor, whom they all trusted and whom they believed read German, what their hallowed document had to say on the subject.  Smart as he was once he sensed what the group was ready – or not ready – to do he announced their group opinion was what the Constitution said!  He was their 20th century Oracle of Delphi. 

This church also had their Easter Sunrise Services at 9:30am for two reasons: 1) fewer members each year were willing to drive to their city location before 6am, and 2) and the neighbors whom they were trying to attract didn’t get up at the crack of dawn.  So they did the Joshua-thing: they made their Easter sunrise arrive at 9:30am.  Only a unique congregation could pull that off.

One theme I see that individuals, families and parishes: change is a constant.  Dr. Weise’s addition to that thought is that change like Times watches is a constant that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  Nothing makes that point clearer to this older pastor that liturgical vestments.  How radically and constantly liturgical vestments have changed since I bought my first black de rigueur Geneva gown in 1949!  Time and tide wait for no man?  True, but why not add, “Time and change don’t dawdle either.”

So here I am, face to face with Dr. Weise’s simple assertion about me, my family and my church: “Age is change over time.” Ain’t it the truth!

Blessings,

Charlie van Winkel

Just Watching – September 2017

It looks to me more and more each day that Henry Lyte’s 1847 hymn, “Abide With Me”, had it right: “…change and decay in all around I see…”. Change for sure. And a lot of what’s left of my surroundings looks like decay.

Lest you think you are about to be hit with the rant of a cranky old let me assure you that as I write I know, accept and glory in the rest of that verse: “… Oh Thou who changest not abide with me.”

Henry completed this hymn three weeks before his death from tuberculosis. Knowing that has helped me appreciate his masterpiece as a whole and that familiar line in particular. His theme and the way he peppered his end-of-life hymn with the pronouns “I” and “me” that has made it a faith favorite for nearing 300 years.

Change has been a generational constant from our world’s Day One whether as between generations or within them. And decay? The ardent evolutionist’s premise that creation has trended toward improvement over the eons doesn’t match my perception or experience.

Maybe that’s why a precis of Concordia Seminary’s Dr. Paul Raabe that I found in Concordiatheology.org struck me as it did. His topic was challenges (he called them “Elephants in the Room”) in items that LCMS congregations as a whole and her members individually face every day. I’ll list his specifics and then leave it to you to determine how each plays out in your world. By the way, he says they are all interconnected.

Elephant 1.  The challenge of a geographical mismatch we face in that most congregations and schools of the LCMS are located in the middle of the country and in rural areas but most of the US population lives on the two coasts and in huge metro areas.

Elephant 2.  The challenge of reaching and attracting the multi-ethnic population in the U.S., (Hispanics, Africans, and Asians, for example) into our predominately Caucasian congregations. Families? Communities?

Elephant 3.  The challenge of non-church-attendance.  Surveys show that on any given Sunday only 18% of the U.S. attends a church…over 80% do not. Are most Americans simply not “into” church and as Robert Putnam would put it, they go “bowling alone?”

Elephant 4.  The challenge of working in a multi-religious environment not only with non-Christian religions but also with many different versions of Christianity.  Many Americans we seek to evangelize have preconceived notions about Christianity that are typically distortions of the Christian faith and life.

Elephant 5.  The challenge of biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians.  Many Christians cannot speak and think in biblical ways; they only know a few biblical soundbites.  Along with that many Lutherans are unfamiliar with the basic documents of our denomination like the Small Catechism (not to mention the Large).

Elephant 6.  The challenge of living the Christian-life in this time and place.  What writes the script for non-Christians view of life writes the script for many Christians as well: the entertainment industry, social media, corporate America, radical individualism and current popular ideologies.  As a result, the life of many Christians differs very little from that of non-Christians.

Dr. Raabe’s “wrap” is as challenging as his Six Elephants:

“Every generation is called to be faithful in its own time and place, to confess the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:5), to teach the written Word of God in its truth and purity (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17), to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 2), to proclaim repentance unto the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:44-49).  With such huge, overwhelming, elephant-like challenges facing us, we are tempted to lift up our hands and cry out in utter despair, “What’s the point?”  But it is 2017 anno domini, in the year of the Lord.  Jesus the Messiah, crucified and risen for all, is that Lord.  Therefore our labor in his name is not in vain.”

So…

How are you dealing with the Six Elephants in yourself and in your world of family, church and community? Denying that the Elephants do not loom large in your life won’t cut it.

I once saw a book plate featuring a sailing ship hull down heading toward for the horizon and the words, “More to Come”. That’s a very Biblical take on life both existentially (our day-in-day-out stuff) and eternally (Henry Lyte’s abide-with-me views). We are all that ship, sails full and billowing, driving through the waters toward a horizon over which we will topple into oblivion (as some see the future), or are heading with Henry and millions of God’s people past and present toward and into our home port. What about you?

As for me and my house we believe there’s more to come – and more to do – until as we are safely harbored with Him.

Bon voyage,

Charlie